A Simple Formula That Predicts The Success Of Marriages

by Gus Lubin from businessinsider(dot)com

Many have spent long hours wondering if a marriage is going to last, considering things like love, children, taxes, and the opinion of friends and professionals.

But the best and easiest answer may be this formula:

frequency of lovemaking minus frequency of quarrels

A positive difference predicts marital happiness, a negative one unhappiness.

The formula was derived from a series of studies in the 1970s. One study of married students at University of Missouri-Kansas City found that 28 out of 30 self-described happy couples had sex more than they argued, while all 12 self-described unhappy couples argued more. These results were corroborated by a 1974 study by John Howard and Robyn Dawes, in which all 23 happy couples had a positive score and all 3 unhappy couples had a negative score.

Howard and Dawes describe their findings in "Linear Prediction Of Marital Happiness" (found at http://commonsenseatheism.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/01/Howard-Dawes-Linear-Prediction-of-Marital-Happiness.pdf )

The linear combination discussed above has at least one clear advantage over the commonly used assessment devices: simplicity. Anyone capable of counting and subtracting can use it. Edwards and Edwards (1973, unpublished) consider the difference score predictive; couples with consistently negative scores frequently separate or divorce within relatively short times. If further investigation confirms that the difference score is a reliable predictor, the simplicity of the method might allow couples to use it as-a relatively objective self-monitoring technique. If a previously positive difference shifted to a negative score, the couple would at least be forewarned, and might seek the cause (and cure) of their problems. A limitation of these studies concerns the old saw, "correlation does not imply causation." Not only do we not know direction of causality, we do not know what would happen if the rates of argument or sex were manipulated experimentally or therapeutically. It does not, for example, follow that we can increase marital happiness of people who argue a lot by encouraging them to have intercourse more often--but it would be an interesting technique to try.

We came across this study in psychologist Daniel Kahneman's Thinking, Fast And Slow, in a discussion of the value of simple formulas.

"The important conclusion from this research is that an algorithm that is constructed on the back of an envelope is often good enough to compete with an optimally weighted formula, and certainly good enough to outdo expert judgment," writes Kahneman.

Indeed the best thing about a formula is that it overrides the brain's faulty intuition system. Kahneman also discusses the bad intuition of hiring agents, financial advisors, amateur investors, pundits, and pretty much everyone.

maryryan maryryan
46-50, F
15 Responses Dec 31, 2012

wow! sounds pretty awesome. unless you're the type who didn't argue and just didn't talk or couldn't talk

Well, I too, have the 0 + 0 = 0 dynamic and to me, that was pathetic. An ILIASM poster said some time ago that "the opposite of love is indifference". A life devoid of passion is not what I signed on for. <br />
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To those who wondered about how quarrels were defined, here is the definition from the researchers' original work:<br />
"Sex referred to sexual intercourse, which was defined as genital union with or without ******. Arguments referred to those situations where at least one party became uncooperative. These included leaving a situation (physically or verbally), personal verbal attacks, or emotional outbursts. The monitor (who recorded these behaviors) also rated the marriage as: happy, tolerable, or unhappy."<br />
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I don't necessarily endorse nor deny the findings as noted in the article, nor do I have a particular opinion. What I do like is the simplicity of the measurement. There is no "why", "wherefore", or "but"; no modifiers or obfuscations. <br />
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Is there a person here who wouldn't agree that if they were having sex with their spouse more than they were fighting with him/her, they'd likely be fairly happy in the marriage. While I believe there is such a thing as "angry sex", it's really hard to stay mad at each other for long when you are copulating or doing so regularly. If so, then you are probably doing it wrong and have deeper problems that can't be fixed without significant outside assistance.<br />
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I've read in other fields (e.g. healthcare), that elaborate assessments by highly trained (and highly paid) professionals actually had worse treatment outcomes than a very simple checklist that could be operated by anyone - even though it resulted in some false diagnosis, the serious cases were treated promptly. And one of the problems in the SM is that one or both parties do not treat it as an emergency.

So the brutal simplicity of this one has much to say for it.

The quantity of mutually satisfying sex must out way the arguments.
The absense of it is a sign of bigger issues.
The amount of arguments within a relationship doesn't point to a doomed relationship, as much as the lack of mutually satisfying sex .

More sex

no fighting....also no sex. So a zero/zero calcultion. Isn't that an imaginary number? Hmmm..just like our "marriage"....imaginary.

I just laughed out loud about the 'passive aggressive' partner. Sure, not many arguments, but plenty of weird **** to deal with - and him 'just saying' stuff for my own good - and obviously, no sex.

What's the definition of a quarrel? I'm sure (well, not "sure" but presume) that the happy couples would have disagreements that they would not count as quarrels whereas the unhappy couples would count the same disagreement as a quarrel (because they're unhappy). It's a bit of a self-fulfilling prophesy in my humble opinion.

Having said that, I'm always in favor of more sex and less quarreling.

I always knew I was missing something oh wait - SEX- I am resulting to mechanical objects just to keep from seeking outside human warmth! Now I ask you how do I get my H to want it more than just once month? We have only been married 2 years! He will not opt for additional sessions as he said: It will be too much and he uses it as a arguement tool. For example: if I babied him more he would give me more sex. Ugh! After playing mommy I just get a disgusted and no longer find him attractive. So complicated! But yet simple... The real question is How?

The sound of one hand clapping is.....silence. Unless both of you are invested in each other and see sexual intimacy as a mutual gift and the needed activity which facilitates you pair bonding, there is unlikely to be any shift in your circumstances.

Awesome analogy! No gifts! No tree! No Christmas for me!

Decent sex can be a valuable method of 'papering over the cracks' in a relationship. Indeed such a strategy can last a lifetime in cases.

Without the decent sex component, the cracks widen into gaps / crevices / chasms.

Tread your own path.

I've thought of sex in a relationship as being like cartilage in your joints: if you've got cartilage, the joint functions smoothly and there is no pain; but without cartilage it is bone grinding on bone.

I like the stark simplicity of this heuristic, and I think it's very useful as a wake-up call for the head-in-the-sand delusions.

Here's my "however" - I'm very much not a fan of Kahneman (and Tversky) et al. There's a whole industry of pundits having a go at how inadequate our decision-making systems are when in fact the psychologists involved have their very own framing effect going on big-style - because they do not factor in how complicated our lives are, especially when social interaction, reputations and so on, are factored in. Many of the so-called faults in our decision making are in fact features of our complex social lives and very sophisticated decision making.

As an analogy, various optical illusions are well known, but even in an apparently simple system like vision, that's been found to be quite complex (30+ brain regions involved), and our vision does a great job given the complexity and ambiguity in the world. Machine vision is still primitive.

My take is that our intuitions are by no means faulty, but that we tend to operate various schemes for self-deception, because of fear and risk. These days, and frequently enough, the risks are actually small, yet our self-preservation instincts are strong.

this is great! and the one thing my H could never understand.

"frequency of lovemaking minus frequency of quarrels"

my H told me that all I cared about was sex, and what it came down to is that i feel it is fundamental to a relationship, let alone a marriage. if it's not there, that level of intimacy that is, what else is there to hold on to through tall the quarrels?

I love this!! Simple and elegant. Its good for checking the marital pulse. However, knowing that one's marriage is an unhappy one, does not necessarily correlate to fixing it or divorce. I would say that while the majority of posters in this forum will readily admit they are unhappy in their marriage, not very many would leave their marriages and very few would successfully salvage their marriage. Most will choose to continue their unhappy existence because there will always be some reason to do so.

Well, holy sh!t.

I love this!

Love it!
Hmmm .... For a passive-aggressive partner, this doesn't work: what value would we substitute for "frequency of quarrels"? Number of times he broke or lost something of mine? Number of times he was late? Number of times he misplaced my mail?

I would have used number of times he was late, didn't follow through, ignored me, or screwed something up. Wait---that's daily, maybe even hourly! OMG, so glad to be out of that insanity...

hahaha. so true!!

And the "forgotten" phone messages ... but iit was still (0 - x) = -x